Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Three lingering Gardiner questions that deserve answers

By: Metro Canada Published on Thu Jun 18 2015

A week after council voted 24-21 in favour of the “hybrid option” for the Gardiner East, I’m still feeling all the feelings. I’m disappointed. I’m worried about what this means for the next few years. And I’m very, very tired.

I’m also confused.

Last week's debate left me with a bunch of unanswered questions, both about the process up to this point and about what comes next. Questions that can’t and shouldn’t be brushed aside. They’re important to not just the future of the Gardiner, but also to the realization of other major projects in Toronto. We need — and deserve — answers.

Here are three of the biggest head-scratchers.

1. Where did the new “hybrid option” come from?

Semantics played a huge role in the Gardiner debate. That the winning option was called the “hybrid” gave it immediate political appeal. Politicians — especially Toronto politicians — tend to love the idea of compromise.

But anyone who looked deeper at the Gardiner debate realized pretty quickly that the “hybrid option” isn’t really a hybrid at all. It merely moves the location of a few off-ramps while leaving the rest of the expressway intact. It’s a far cry from the “hybrid” proposed by First Gulf in 2014 which would have seen the Gardiner East demolished and rebuilt on an entirely different alignment.

We know from the reports that First Gulf’s hybrid was ruled out due to concerns about the curve radius of the realigned expressway connection and the location of a water treatment facility. That makes sense. But it’s not clear to me why the report process continued after that realization. Who came up with the new hybrid? And why keep calling it the “hybrid” when it so clearly differed from the first proposal?

2. Why was removal not the preferred alternative in the Environmental Assessment?

I’ll have more to say on this in the future, but it really bothers me that the Gardiner East report came to Toronto City Council without a staff recommendation. Instead, both removing and keeping the Gardiner East (as the “hybrid”) were presented to council as viable solutions. At a glance, it essentially gave them equal weight.

But if we dig deeper into the report, it’s clear that both options were not equally preferred. When weighed against the criteria approved by council when they started the environmental assessment process, the remove option scored better in the vast majority of cases.

The Gardiner EA looked at the options through four lenses: transportation and infrastructure, urban design, environment and economics. In all but the first case, the EA determined that removing the Gardiner East was the preferred option.

The EA also weighed the options against five goals: waterfront revitalization, reconnecting the city with the lake, balancing modes of travel, achieving sustainability and creating value. In achieving every one of those goals, removing the Gardiner East was found to be the preferred option.

Add the results up and taking down the Gardiner East comes out ahead 8-1. Not even close.

So why no recommendation? A year ago — before the introduction of the “hybrid” — the same report writers had no trouble recommending removal as their preferred option. Why the ambiguity now?

3. What the hell did council vote for?

I’m pretty sure no one can answer this question yet, but it’s still worth thinking about. With the vote projected to be so close last week, Tory compromised a bit on his preferred option, allowing some amendments to ensure the support of wildcard colleagues like Coun. Jim Karygiannis and Coun. Jon Burnside.

Once all those various amendments are factored into the deal, the result is a shambling mess — a FrankenGardiner.

Council opted to endorse the “hybrid option,” yes, but their hybrid specifically includes no specifics as to the configuration and number of ramps at Cherry Street. It also comes with a request that staff look at design alternatives — alternatives that could trigger another look at the original design offered by First Gulf.

It also comes with a request for reports on a bunch of stuff.

There were two requests for reports on tolling the highway, to come in September — one for all residents, and one that would toll only non-residents.

Other successful motions asked for reports on whether the Gardiner could be uploaded to the province, or sold to a private company.

And then there was the ridiculous and expensive notion of tunnelling the Gardiner. Councillors decided to study whether it’d be possible to bury the expressway, at — seriously — no cost to the taxpayer. I really hope the report on that one is just the words “NOPE” in 200-point font.

So where does that leave us? According to council, the “hybrid” will have ramps at Cherry Street, or maybe not. It will either be left where it is or realigned entirely. It’ll be owned by the city, or the province, or someone else. It’ll be either tolled or untolled. It could be elevated, or it could somehow be buried deep in the cold dark earth at no cost to the taxpayer.

The only certain thing certain is uncertainty.

Which isn’t all bad news, really. In a roundabout way, it means Toronto still has a chance to get this right.

This post was originally published at on 2015-06-18T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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